Ballet terminology and its accompanying steps date back to the French
court of the 17th century. French names were given to these steps and are still used
today, so whether you are in a ballet studio in Canada, France or Russia, ballet
vocabulary is universally understood.
Choreography is the art of creating and arranging the steps of a dance and shaping the
whole ballet by using both the human body and movement vocabulary.
The choreographer is the composer of the dancing in the ballet. He or she is
responsible for producing the ballet for the stage and integrating the dancing, music,
decor, story, costumes and lighting.
Through technique and interpretation, the dancer manifests for the audience what a
choreographer wishes to express.
A male dancer who has proved himself both technically and artistically in leading
roles and is thus promoted to the highest rank in the male ballet hierarchy is called a
Premier Danseur. In The National Ballet of Canada these dancers are called Principal
A ballerina is the female equivalent of a Premier Danseur. In The National Ballet of
Canada these dancers are called Principal Dancers.
Soloists are dancers, male or female, who perform solos, pas de deux and small group
dances in the repertoire. Many dancers are groomed for principal roles while they are
soloists, gaining both technical strength and artistic maturity.
Corps de ballet:
The corps de ballet can be compared to the chorus of an opera. The corps de ballet is
the backbone of a ballet company and performs all of the ensemble work. The female corps
de ballet in classical ballets must be very well rehearsed in order to form perfectly
symmetrical lines in a way that looks effortless and that gives the illusion of the
dancers moving as one.
Pas de deux:
A dance performed by two people is a pas de deux. Traditionally a pas de deux is
performed by a man and a woman, but in contemporary ballets pas de deux are also performed
by male couples and female couples and are of a less structured nature.
Divertissements consist of a variety of dances inserted as entertainments, usually in
the last acts of ballets, where balls or festivals are taking place.
Character dances are derived from traditional, national or folklore sources and are
outside the bounds of classical academic dance. Such dances include the tarantella, tango,
square dance, Scottish reel, mazurka and czardas.
Mime is the art of telling a story, expressing a mood or an emotion or describing an
action without using words. In some ballets there are dancers who do not actually dance
instead they help tell the story through mime making movements and gestures. Dancers who
perform such roles are called Character Artists.
Pointe shoes are worn by female dancers to enable them to dance on the tips of their
toes. The pointe shoe is made of satin and shaped like a slipper; it has no heel. The part
of the shoe that covers the toes is made of layers of fabric glued together in the shape
of a "box" and hardened. The sole of the shoe is made of hard leather to prevent
the shoe from bending and to help support the foot. To keep the shoe on tightly dancers
sew satin ribbons to the sides and tie them securely around their ankles.
Tutus and other dancewear:
The ballet skirt worn by female dancers in many classical ballets is called a tutu.
Made from several layers of tarlatan, silk or nylon, the tutu has, over the years, taken
on many different forms. The first tutus were calf-length Romantic tutus (as seen in Giselle,
La Sylphide and Les Sylphides). As their name suggests, these tutus give
dancers a dreamy, romantic look. As ballerinas began to acquire greater virtuosity in the
last two decades of the 19th century, the tutu skirt was shortened to just above the knee,
allowing the dancers to show off their footwork. Some 20th century tutus extend straight
out from the waist and are short; called powder-puff tutus, they enable the dancers to
execute difficult steps more easily and allow the audience to see the dancers legs more
A scenario is the written text or plot line of a ballet -- the story of the dance.
Often inspired by a novel, play, poem or historical event, a scenario is created by a
scenarist. Opera texts are called librettos and are written by librettists.